Apple OS X 10.7 Lion: In-Depth Review - InformationWeek
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Apple OS X 10.7 Lion: In-Depth Review

Hands-on Review: Apple OS X 10.7 Lion

I've been using OS X 10.7 Lion since the first Apple Developer Preview. Here's my take on this upgrade. It isn't perfect. There are still minor problems with third-party apps, but overall the OS looks stable. There are great improvements, too. Here's my hands-on, starting with the new Mission Control feature.

Mission Control centralizes everything running on your Mac in one place. You get a bird's-eye view of open windows, full-screen apps, spaces (virtual desktops), and Dashboard.

The thumbnails at the top of the screen represent Dashboard, desktop spaces, and your full screen apps. Below that, find an Expose view of all your open windows on your desktop. Click on anything to navigate. I'm pleased with this new feature--it works well and intuitively.

Full support for multi-touch gestures is here, too.

OS X Lion fully integrates multi-touch gestures, which sources tell us will be essential for new Apple iMacs and notebooks to be announced in August and released this September. In Mission Control, multi-touch is especially obvious. It's more embedded here than in the previous OS X version Snow Leopard. Apple made serious headway in this department, bringing the iOS feature fully to the Mac desktop.

Multi-touch really enhances my workflow. With three fingers on my trackpad, I swipe across spaces and access Mission Control. I used to think spaces and the virtual desktops they represent on Snow Leopard were cumbersome, so I never used them. Now, with OS X Lion, I will be using multiple desktops a lot more.

When you throw full-screen applications in--they act just like another space--you really can flow quickly between applications, desktops, and other areas. This is the most efficient virtual desktop feature I've ever tested. Apple OS X Lion hits a home run in this department.

Customers are going to have to get used to some other things, too. OS X Lion, for instance, reverses the default scrolling method. Apple calls this new scrolling direction "natural." It mimics the same scrolling the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad use. It feels really different on Macs, though. If yours has a built-in or attached trackpad, the OS X Lion installer walks you through the new scrolling method with a tutorial once you log into it for the first time.

Expose is changed in OS X Lion in a big way--it's an improvement over the previous implementation for sure. Expose will now place windows together in groups for particular applications. You can browse through the group of windows using swiping gestures and select the one that you want to bring front and center. It is pretty effective in finding an elusive hidden window you lost track of.

Even cooler is the wow factor you'll get when you double-tap an application icon in the Dock. You'll be immediately placed into the App Expose view for that particular app. This is a winning new feature.

Now let's talk Launchpad. This is a full-screen home screen for all the apps on your Mac. OS X Lion automatically creates full-screen pages to display your apps on and it automatically adds new pages as you add more apps. Find the app you want using multi-touch gestures, if you like. Open apps with a single click.

Launchpad isn't all Apple sets it up to be. It's one of the clearly obvious features borrowed from iOS. Apple should put it back there. It doesn't belong on a Mac. It doesn't make any sense on my 27-inch iMac or on my 13-inch MacBook Air. It will only make sense once Apple releases Macs and notebooks with a touchscreen, but there have been rumors about that for years now. Who knows--touch screen Macs might be Steve's one more thing one of these days.

Even then, it will be a poor addition. This is because the OS X implementation has the same flaws as the iOS implementation does: It's too hard to edit the position of your apps in the pages it returns, the folders it supports are difficult to manage and maintain, and navigating around to perform tasks with it is just awful.

On top of all that, it pulls in every app you have and displays them on one of the home screens it generates and represents with small dots, as you see above. There is no ability to filter what it pulls in and displays.

On my iMac I have 292 objects, including apps and folders, at the root level of my Application folder. This doesn't count apps I have inside of the folders or sub-folders or apps that are running on Windows 7 in my Parallels virtual machine. Yet Launchpad manages to not only find all the apps in my Applications folder and its subfolders, but it also finds the ones in Windows 7 too. The result is a nightmarish collection of app icons displayed in Launchpad. Talk about a train wreck. This is a hard fail.

OS X Lion now includes built-in support for full-screen apps. That's at once a blessing and a curse. It's easy to get used to, but interaction with it is a bit unwieldy. Your older applications don't automatically get to display full-screen. You need third-party apps designed to support this feature. With applications that do support it, this is great.

More than one full-screen app runs at once and multi-touch gestures work with each of them, too. Full-screen apps integrate nicely with Mission Control, as I mentioned previously. Currently Apple's standard apps like Safari, Mail, and others do support full-screen mode.

And then there's AirDrop. This is a fast, easy way to share files with people who are nearby. Use it to send files to anyone using a compatible Mac wirelessly using Wi-Fi, provided the other Mac is within 30 feet of you. AirDrop works with no complicated network infrastructure settings to deal with. It’s all Wi-Fi.

Click the AirDrop icon in a Finder window sidebar and AirDrop will find Macs with AirDrop in the 30-foot vicinity. Just drag and drop your files onto the destination Mac's owner pic and away it goes--right into that Mac's Downloads folder.

Initially, I could not get AirDrop to work because Apple's definition of "nearby" and mine were completely at odds. I had my Mac Mini in the living room and my MacBook Air in my study. That's the 30-foot AirDrop limit getting in my way. I urge Apple to extend this capability. It would be nice to be able to share a file with someone upstairs, on the other side of the house, or out on the patio.

In the meantime, when AirDrop works, it works great. It's easy to use. Apple should extend this to support mobile devices as soon as possible.

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